Holiday drivers face growing pollution barriers

July 20, 2022
Summer holiday drivers face more pollution barriers than ever before, as popular destinations crack down on toxic air pollution.
Summer holiday traffic jam

Summer holiday drivers face more pollution barriers than ever before, as popular destinations crack down on toxic air pollution.

320 European city regions now restrict older vehicles, which are typically more polluting, up by 40% since 2019, according to new research [1]. All of the top 10 most popular tourist cities now block many petrol and diesel vehicles, especially cars [2].



Tourist favourite Italy has 172 low emission zones (LEZs), more than any other European country. Restrictions have nearly doubled from 98 in 2019. Italian schemes are disorganised, making it difficult for drivers to know which vehicles are restricted from where. Germany currently has 78 LEZs, the UK 17, the Netherlands 14 and France 8. Portugal has just one LEZ, in Lisbon. Few restrictions are in place in Central and Eastern European countries, but Poland and Bulgaria are set to unveil LEZs in the coming months.

Barbara Stoll, Director of the Clean Cities Campaign, said: “It’s getting much harder to drive polluting vehicles on holiday. Tourist hotspots have led the way, but hundreds more cities are increasingly pushing for cleaner, more tranquil streets. Drivers are better off switching to clean alternatives and governments should continue ramping up high speed and holiday rail options in addition to providing other alternatives to private, polluting cars.”

Air pollution is a public health emergency, according to the World Health Organization, causing more than 300,000 premature deaths a year in the EU. Road vehicles are a leading cause. Studies show that LEZs deliver strong improvements in air quality and have a positive impact on trade. Most city dwellers want all petrol and diesel cars gradually prevented from entering cities, according to recent polling.

LEZs sometimes stretch into suburbs, satellite towns and ring roads. A clear majority of them ban entry, typically to diesel cars at Euro 4 standard or older and petrol cars at Euro 3 or older [3], but some allow drivers to enter for a fee.

A third (33%) of Europeans will take their car on holiday this summer, according to a poll in March. But with unexpected strain at airports and car rental firms across Europe, many more may make the trip south in their own cars this summer.

The number of LEZs is set to grow by 58% to 507 by 2025, the study calculated, based on agreed plans or legal obligations [4]. Growth will be strongest in tourist hotspot Spain, where 146 new LEZs will be in place by 2024, while in France, 34 new LEZs will be in force by 2025. The EU could soon require 424 urban areas to write Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans, which would likely include many new or strengthened LEZs.

27 existing schemes are set to get stricter too, including London and Paris, the top two European tourist cities, plus Amsterdam, the 7th most popular. Paris, Amsterdam and Copenhagen are set to refuse entry to all petrol and diesel vehicles by the end of the decade, followed by Brussels in 2035. That list is set to grow after 100 cities this spring pledged to go climate neutral by 2030. The €360 million EU scheme wants all European cities to be carbon neutral by 2050. The EU is expected to stop all combustion vehicle sales by 2035, including hybrids. Major carmakers support the target, including Volkswagen, Mercedes, Ford and Volvo.

Trends and projections of low-emission zones in Europe

Notes to the editor:
[1] Statistics on LEZs come from the Urban Access Regulations Database, supported by the European Commission.

[2] Statista measures popularity based on the number of tourists staying overnight. All the top ten cities have LEZs, namely London, Paris, Berlin, Munich, Stockholm, Hamburg, Amsterdam, Rome, Madrid and Vienna. Cars are exempt from the LEZ in Vienna. Istanbul is excluded as it is partly beyond the European continent.

[3] LEZs do not yet apply to private cars in Austria and Denmark. Otherwise, European LEZs typically restrict private petrol cars and vans at Euro 3 standard or older, except in the UK where they are stronger (Euro 4) and Germany where they are weaker (Euro 1). LEZs are stricter for diesels, blocking access to Euro 4 or 5 vehicles, but are stronger in the UK (mostly Euro 5 or 6).

Barbara Stoll (EN / HU) | Campaign Director, Clean Cities Campaign | | +44 7985 637 173

Celeste Hicks (EN / FR) | Communications and Media Manager, Clean Cities Campaign | | +44 7957 915 696

Jack Hunter (EN) | Communications Consultant | | +33 754 543 548

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